Weekend reads for July 22-23


For the benefit of subscribers, here's a few longer reads on social, economic and political matters for the weekend.

Elon Musk warned again this week that sentient robots were an existential threat to human civilisation. But this Wired piece reports that the actual experts in Artificial Intelligence (AI) think Musk is overstating the risks for now, and that other problems with AI are in more immediate need of regulation. They include how AI is giving disproportionate market power to a few large tech companies and is creating risks around privacy and ethics.

Jack O'Donnell is a casino executive who worked directly for Donald Trump in Atlantic City in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He writes in Vox about how Trump's problems with Donald Trump Jr are just another case of a fatal flaw Trump has exhibited for 30 years: nepotism. "While watching the saga unfold this week, I was reminded how President Trump puts unprecedented faith and responsibility in those he most trusts: his family. Seeing Trump Jr. flailing on the public stage is a commentary on President Trump, not Jr. After all, the president has done this before, and with similar disastrous results," O'Donnell writes.

We've all heard of the gig economy (Freelancer, Taskrabbit and Upwork) and seen pop-up stores, but this report in the New York Times on 'pop-up employers' is an eye-opener into just how far this could extend into working life. Another term used is 'flash organisation'. Bit like a flash flood.

Here's one of the risks: "Still, even while fostering flexibility, the model could easily compound insecurity. Temporary firms are not likely to provide health or retirement benefits. And even if high-skilled workers like project managers and web developers find they are well compensated on the open market, said Lawrence Katz, a Harvard economist, low-skilled workers tend to fare worse outside firms."

Everyone thought Google Glass had died under a welter of derision and suspicion, but as Wired reports, Google Glass 2.0 is alive and well in the workplace. It's called Glass EE.

"Companies testing EE—including giants like GE, Boeing, DHL, and Volkswagen—have measured huge gains in productivity and noticeable improvements in quality. What started as pilot projects are now morphing into plans for widespread adoption in these corporations. Other businesses, like medical practices, are introducing Enterprise Edition in their workplaces to transform previously cumbersome tasks."

It's worth asking what a society without cash might look like and which countries will lead the world in cashless technologies. This New York Times piece on how cash is becoming increasingly obsolete in urban China is worth a click. Any New Zealand business not offering WeChat and Alipay is missing a trick.

"Almost everyone in major Chinese cities is using a smartphone to pay for just about everything. At restaurants, a waiter will ask if you want to use WeChat or Alipay — the two smartphone payment options — before bringing up cash as a third, remote possibility."

This column from Richard MacManus on Newsroom on China's fintech companies is useful background on all this, as is this other column from Richard on Latipay, a New Zealand startup that makes it easy for businesses here and in other countries to integrate with WeChat or Alipay.

Have a great weekend.